Queer Holiness: A Review and Critique I: Introduction

Joshua Penduck writes: The following is a review and critique of Charlie Bell’s book Queer Holiness: The Gift of LGBTQI People to the Church. It will be divided into four blog posts (though a complete version of the review can be found here: Review-of-Charlie-Bell-Queer-Holiness). 

  • The first part is an introduction to Queer Holiness, plus the beginnings of an exploration for the implicated trajectories the book seems to make, or at least opening the ground for. 
  • The second part is an analysis of the problems with the rhetorical strategy Bell makes in his book, namely polemic, and why he is unsuccessful in the use of such a strategy.
  • The third part then returns to the proposal raised in the first part, namely that something has gone wrong with Bell’s argument. This explores the problems of Bell’s use of Scripture, the Fall, and understanding of revelation. 
  • The fourth and final part will respond to one of the key questions which Bell raises, namely, considering our developing scientific knowledge of same-sex attraction, why God would permit it? Diverging from Bell’s own answer, this section seeks to place the issue within a wider revelatory context. 

Though the reasons for the extensive nature of this review will (hopefully) become apparent when reading, one reason can be clarified in advance: Bell’s book is in many ways paradigmatic for crystalising the arguments and problems with the revisionist position in the Church of England. As such, it is written with a view to a wider debate and the need for an extensive, coherent, and systematic response. 


It’s not easy being a conservative on matters of sexuality in the 21st Century West—especially if you used to be a liberal. One feels out-of-place. A strange, uncomfortable disjunction between sociopolitical and theological views sometimes feels like a widening internal chasm. If, like me, that is your perspective, you may find yourself hopeful when approaching an author who claims to be able to bridge this chasm—that the Bible, after all, does make positive space for same-sex sexual activity. In the past I have been frequently disappointed when such claims were made. Indeed, it is in reading them that this once-liberal has become conservative (or ‘orthodox/catholic’, whatever the lingo may be). I found the claims made were found to be hermeneutically faulty or historically naive; alternatively, they would dismantle one theological loci to make space for a positive reappraisal, but thereby needing to make piecemeal restructuring of the whole dogmatic architecture. 

Far more convincing, therefore, were those Queer theologies that simply did away with classical dogmatics as traditionally understood (for example, Susannah Cornwall or Marcella Althaus-Reid)—at least their theological social imaginary was internally coherent. Nevertheless, the hope does not die. With this in mind, when author, blogger, activist and priest Charlie Bell claimed that his book Queer Holiness: The Gift of LGBTQI People to the Church responded to the issues I had raised in my open letter to Bishop Stephen Croft, I approached the book with a sense of promise. Perhaps at last I need not feel like a resident alien? 

Bell makes some great claims for the Bible: 

The Bible is of God and from God, and God owes us the clarity we demand no more than he owes us anything else. God is Truth, and Christ is the Word of God—this truth has been revealed in the scriptures and continues to be revealed in the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. This revelation must be—by nature—concordant—and it is for this reason that we must be constantly alert to the work of the Spirit and willing to wrestle with scripture, placing it into dialogue with our knowledge and understanding of the world. (220-1)

On the surface, there is not a single line I could disagree with. Yet when we scratch that surface just a little, the book reveals a disjunction. It’s hinted in that line ‘continues to be revealed.’ In the context of the rest of the book that has a far greater weight than would appear in the surrounding sentence. Indeed, one could even make a key structural node to Bell’s approach. This is hinted at in the opening pages of the book:

This book has a simple premise—that however much we might know our Bible, if we exclude human experience, science and reason from the way we read and interpret that Bible, we not only do a poor job of interpretation, but in so doing fail to take the Bible seriously on its own terms… The life of God revealed in scripture is one of narrative and of being alongside humanity—one in which the Son of God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us, and yet still we rejected Him. We don’t appear to have learnt. (13)

It’s the last sentence that struck me most. An astute reader of the Scriptures would say, ‘Of course we haven’t learnt. That’s the point.’ It’s those two terms, ’continuing to be revealed’ and ‘don’t appear to have learnt’, which when delved into separate the whole of Bell’s theological worldview from my own. 

Apologies. I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even managed to tell you what Bell’s argument is! Let’s explore…

Bell’s Argument

For Bell, Scripture is not encountered in a vacuum. It is ‘never about something abstract’ (20), but rather is read in the flux and change of the reality ‘here below’ (to quote Cardinal Newman). Furthermore, doctrine—the teachings of the church—is practically minded, in the sense that ‘it is an overwhelming, all embracing, total reorientation of our whole lives to God’ (ibid). Despite that flux, the hierarchical structuring of doctrine nevertheless centres on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, ‘recorded’ in Scripture, of a world ‘saved through Christ and yet a world that remains beset by sin and death’ (ibid). 

The purpose of this is, in part, the flourishing of human dignity—‘that which points to the life of Christ in God’. The Holy Spirit works throughout the world to encourage and drive this flourishing—something which is not static and bounded within ecclesial or even a Christian orbit. One could read Bell’s argument as a pneumatological ‘unfolding’ of creational potential. 

This is invoked as the glue which holds together his quasi-Hookerian ‘scripture, tradition, and reason’ triad as the lens through which he approaches divine revelation. Because of this, the Scriptures should be read alongside the sciences. Christian theology in the main ‘reinterpreted’ the creation accounts of Genesis to incorporate the findings of evolutionary science, for example. 

Accordingly, theology should thereby reinterpret certain ‘texts of terror’ in the Scriptures to coincide with the findings of the sciences and science-humanity hybrids such as psychology and sociology. The findings of evolutionary science could be incorporated because of an ‘appeal to a hermeneutic that looks to the overarching narrative of scripture rather than simplistic notions built on particular texts’ (49). The same approach can be found regarding sexuality. That overarching narrative becomes vital for approaching ethics:

It is important to reiterate that God does not bless everything, and this includes things in the area of sex, sexuality and relationships. The biblical record in this regard is genuinely clear: God does not bless abusive relationships, does not bless the subjugation of women, does not bless infidelity and does not bless coercive sexual behaviour. The Bible is clear in this regard because the entire canon of scripture points in this direction—through books of different genres, eras, and audiences. (52)

The texts regarding same-sex sexual activity should be interpreted through this trajectory. The ‘hermeneutical key is Christ Himself’ (44) who comes to fulfil rather than abolish the law. And what is the fulfilling of the law? In a quasi-echo of Augustine, Bell argues that it is Love—a Love that manifests itself in the justice-drenched, embodied life of Jesus. It is this love-based, human-flourishing-releasing trajectory which stops the Bible from being swamped into the potential relativism of scientific findings with which it is in dialogue. The Bible ‘guides’ (63) our interpretation of human knowledge. 

Bell takes us into these scientific and psychological findings. Critiquing a dualism which separates a person’s acts and ontology, he argues: 

It is deeply flawed to imagine that one’s being—which includes sexual desire, and longing for relationship—is entirely separate from acting on such feelings, and we know from basic psychological knowledge that being prevented from acting on some of the most human of feelings—most particularly when this is enforced rather than freely chosen—is detrimental to mental health (and even physical health) and indeed to the ability of individuals to play their full part in society. Worse still is the total repression of one’s thoughts—the denial of even thinking a particular way, let alone acting upon it. (58)

The Church has forced this kind of repression on the LGBTQI community—and still does. Such repression causes such evil consequences as psychological breakdown and suicide. It’s not that Bell is arguing for a complete release of all sexual instincts—‘it is not always right to act on innate desires, even if those desires form part of one’s psychological make-up’—as many are ‘abusive, predatory, paedophilic or destructive’ (63) and thereby dehumanizing. But according to Bell, repressing humanizing innate sexualities has the possibility of leading to great evils (such as enforced celibacy leading to the abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church) (67). For a more recent example of this, one just needs to think of the unfolding Mike Pilavachi case.

Secular work on human flourishing, on the other hand, is a better—and for Bell, a more biblical—model:

[It] looks at the whole person—both as an entire individual and as someone in relationship, in community. It is not enough to point to specific elements—each element forms part of an interconnected whole. (79)

For Bell, the scientific record explains why repression of non-heterosexual sexual orientation is wrong:

  • ‘that sexual variation is normal, and that there are clear exceptions to the XY binary genetics’;
  • ‘that homosexual activity is found throughout nature’;
  • ‘that in human, homosexuality forms part of a variation in sexual lives and that sexual orientation is not a choice but an innate part of the mature human personality, with some genetic and some developmental environmental factors involved (as in almost all human traits)’;
  • ‘that sexual orientation cannot be changed through the volition of the individual concerned’;
  • ‘that great psychological damage can be done to LGBTQI people if attempts are made to split apart their identity’;
  • ‘that LGBTQI people can and do live lives which are equivalent in terms of many different measures of human flourishing to those who are straight’;
  • ‘that the greatest challenge to LGBTQI flourishing is prejudice from without.’ (74-5)

Each of these bullet-points are referenced—and the references are worth looking at! 

With this in mind, Bell turns to the arguments of his opponents (we’ll explore this more fully later). Alongside critiquing such groups as Side B Christians, he presents some harrowing stories of the impact conservative exclusion had on several LGBTQI and heterosexual Christians (102-3, 128-9). He argues—rightly—that ‘a church in which openness about LGBTQI matters is not only frowned upon but actively shunned, however unconsciously, is a church that is failing to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4.12). He then adds an empirically untrue statement—‘and a church which is bound to fail’. It appears that many of the most successful churches have unfortunately managed to get along quite well without addressing matters about LGBTQI people! 

In a book that vents ire in multiple directions, he is especially critical of those bishops who in private are deeply supportive of clergy in same-sex relationships yet in public are either conservative or are uncritical of the Church of England’s current teaching. He notes the ‘crippling levels of fear’ that exist in the episcopate, when after the Bishop of Grantham’s outing ‘not a single other gay bishop came out publicly to show solidarity or support him’ (122). Bell is withering towards the strange solution of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, which considers masturbation as ‘the best of two evils’—masturbation being ‘a key example of sexual gratification without any relational aspect’ (96). He rightly exposes such vile language used by the Primate of Nigeria referring to homosexuality as a ‘virus’ (153, 186). 

In Part III, Bell turns his eyes to practical solutions. He spends some time reiterating the arguments of Clare Herbert’s Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Marriage. This argues that same-sex marriage is a legitimate development of the classical understanding of marriage, which can be summed up in the line, ‘It is not the role of the Church to ‘own’ marriage, but to witness—or recognise—it’ (179). This means reconsidering the importance, or at least interpretation of procreation, and rethinking the Christ-and-his-Church model to not be around gender roles. Because the idea that there has been ‘one single understanding of marriage throughout Christian history is quite clearly nonsense’ (21), this means we should be able to revise our understanding according to contemporary norms grounded in science and experience. For example, although Bell does not mention this, the introduction of same-sex marriage has been associated with a significant reduction in the rate of attempted suicide rate of LGBT youth—a statistic that should give all those who are conservative on these matters pause for thought.

Yet Bell is—rightly, given his premises—not satisfied with a mere development of marriage to include same-sex couples. After a chapter exploring a eucharistic ‘open table’ ecclesiology, he gives a series of hints that the impact of LGBTQI people goes beyond the somewhat bourgeois marital inclusion model. He is (somewhat understandably) wary of the expectation for all clergy ‘to be forced into civil partnerships if they are living with a partner’ (205). He seems to suggest that the church must come to terms with the reality that ‘not all sexual behaviour is described or experienced in the context of a long-term, stable relationship’ (208), and questions ‘whether we can quite so easily roundly reject’ such an idea. He goes further: ‘the immediate response to any argument that posits “the right place for sex is within marriage” is to ask the simple question: why?…Whether sex must always be relational—and whether that relationality, if it is required, must take a particular form—is a key question for contemporary culture’ (210). Further: ‘It is quite simply unacceptable that the Church of England’s thinking and position on marriage and sex appears to primarily focus on what LGBTQI people cannot do’ (211). Although I agree with this last quote, I perhaps agree with it from a very different perspective. 

Building on such scattered statements throughout the end of the book, the suggestion seems to be that the restriction of sex within marriage—whether classically understood, or a ‘developmental’ notion which incorporates same-sex couples—should begin to be considered as one option amongst several for the church. Indeed, considering the unexpected relativising of his prior argument for relational sex, and the hints given regarding the sexual revolution and the need to recognise that sex can be fun (60), as well as the emphasis on listening to the cultures (not just the experience) of the LGBTQI community (142), one can see an argument opening for the church coming to terms with some forms of hook-up culture—as long as they are not abusive, subjugating, unfaithful or coercive. This is hardly a slippery slope argument—one just needs to see the theology undergirding the ethical development of the Metropolitan Congregation over the past five decades to see it is quite feasible for other churches to go in a similar direction. After all, the kind of arguments made by Bell in Queer Holiness are reminiscent of arguments made by Metropolitan theologians decades ago; look at the Metropolitan beliefs today to see how Bell’s arguments could be used.

For example, one begins to wonder what ‘unfaithful’ means—is it about pure monogamy or is it about consent? After all, a polyamorous theologian like Paul Tillich did not consider his open marriage ‘unfaithful’. We’re not too far away from the arguments made in Althaus-Reid’s radical essay The Queer God. When this is combined with quotes such as the following …

The corollary is not that God has changed his mind—far from it—but that God is leading us ever closer to His heart in His continual revelation in the world. It is not God who has been wrong—it is us—and yet we continue to refuse him (182)

…one cannot help but wonder whether this allows in principle the sacralisation of contemporary Western culture. 

Something has gone wrong

It is here that this implicit argument takes an interesting turn. Whereas previously there could have been a tenuous claim to theological development—i.e. the extension of the institution of marriage to incorporate same-sex couples—we are now in a place where the position of the church regarding sexual ethics almost exactly coincides with the beliefs and sexual norms in contemporary British society. I’m not saying that Bell is arguing for the sacralisation of these new norms (though I also cannot be sure from the text alone that he is not). I am rather observing that it is difficult to see how one can not argue from this that the logical conclusion is such a sacralisation. This means one of four things: 

  1. Contrary to Bell’s assertions, God has ‘changed God’s mind’, or at least has ‘learnt’ more;
  2. Christian views of sexuality always have been, broadly speaking, relativistic to the ‘host culture’ within certain revealed bounds;
  3. Divine intention for sexuality through progressive revelation has coincided almost exactly with British liberal values of the 21st Century, meaning that Christianity-rejecting secular Britain is the closest human society has ever been to ‘what God wants’ regarding sexuality;
  4. Something has gone wrong with Bell’s argument. 

The first proposal is theologically promising—if one accepts some kind of rigorous process metaphysics. Yet the question arises, as it has always done with Whiteheadian process thinking, whether it is compatible with Christian doctrine as it has been received. I’m not sure it is; Bell doesn’t suggest it; as such I can bracket this idea for another time. 

The problem with the second proposal is that either it is total relativism, or the ‘revealed bounds’ as understood by the proponents tend to be suspiciously close to Western liberal values of autonomy and choice. Though there is a toleration of other cultural expressions of marriage and sexuality, there lurks an inward superiority complex. We can see this in a film like Eat Pray Love where, although the protagonist tolerates another character’s arranged marriage, it is presented as a tragic circumstance, a core of bitter sadness dressed in bright colours, dancing, and joyful music. 

This leads to the third proposal: progressive revelation coincides with 21st Century British liberal culture. The problem here is that there lurks a cultural imperialism, akin to the arrogant Hegelian idealism embodied in pre-First World War Germany. There, the unfolding of the divine idea coincided with the cultural norms of the Second German Reich. This is not to say that progressive revelation ends with that culture, but rather that that culture is claimed to be the incarnational stream through which the Spirit makes revelation concrete. As far as I can see, no one is arguing that progressive revelation in matters of sexuality is happening through African Pentecostalism or even Indian Hinduism. This is convenient: God is revealing himself on this matter through the host culture of the proponent. Yet this is what Bell seems to be arguing for Western liberal values. The fact that he tries to back up his argument through the latest science strikes the dogmatic historian in me as a remarkable parallel to the pre-war German use of then-contemporary science to back up their own cultural norms. 

This is why I think the most likely proposal is the fourth: something has gone wrong. In Part III of this review, I will be exploring that fourth proposal in more detail. In Part IV, I will also attempt to make an alternative suggestion to Bell’s in incorporating some of the scientific evidence he raises in his book. However, before we can reach there, we need to make an unfortunate detour in Part II.

Joshua Penduck

Joshua Penduck is the Rector of Newcastle-under-Lyme, St Giles with St Thomas, Butterton, in the Diocese of Lichfield. Prior to ordination he was a composer and has written music for the LSO, BCMG and Orkest de Ereprijs. He is married to Shelley, who is also an Anglican minister in Stoke-on-Trent.

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50 thoughts on “Queer Holiness: A Review and Critique I: Introduction”

  1. If God reveals himself through the host culture of the author, why is it that that host culture is such a freefall disaster in family stability?
    And why is it that they are showing all the signs of prolonged adolescent immaturity and hedonism in their sexual practice, while simultaneously shunning those whose worldview demonstrably produced greater stability?
    Isn’t it more likely that what we have here is an unthinking tendency to regard a host culture and host era as the norm – something whose main cause is often insufficient knowledge of any other?

    • Exactly! This is what I bring out more thoroughly in Part III. And thanks for developing my critique – it’s given me something more to work with.

      • I found the book an infuriating example of wordprocessor composition.
        Points were developed at as detailed or cursory a level as the author chose (this being a potboiler rather than a systematic treatise, it was often relatively cursory): the author could select which dimensions he gave fuller and less full treatment to.
        In order to advance the debate, he would have had to engage with the specific points and sustained arguments made by such as Gagnon. But instead he finds himself summarising Gagnon’s entire detailed book with a wave of a hand, as though all those detailed points and interactions were the same as one another. (Gagnon is only one example among many authors that could have been engaged, of course – but alas the literature is vast; Gagnon tries his best to engage others and Bell does not come close.) That could not be less of an advance in the discussion; it is by comparision a substantial retreat in the discussion.

        • Christopher

          But this is what those who oppose full inclusion of LGBT people in the church also do all the time – limit scripture to verses that seem to support their position, ignore the arguments etc.

          I’ve read some of Gagnons writing and from memory I think it’s weak and often plain wrong, but if I felt otherwise then I’d probably agree with his conclusions!

          • Total rubbish. There is 10x more specific discussion on a single page of Gagnon than in your comment, and you prove my point by the sheer vagueness of what you say. Can you please go into actual texts and actual statistics? You are digging a hole otherwise.

          • Christopher

            It was some time ago. I’m sorry but I don’t rate him. You are welcome to have a differing opinion.

          • Exactly. You show your intellectual level by assessing an entire long book that has multiple substantive intricate points per page by ‘I don’t rate him.’.

    • Christopher

      I think you are accidentally straw manning here – picking the most hedonistic gay people and deciding that they are representative of all gay Christians.

      It’s the equivalent of defining straight Christians using Ravi Zaccharias, Jonathan Fletcher and Donald Trump!

        • Christopher

          I can certainly agree that some gay people are immature and hedonistic, but they aren’t representative of gay Christians.

  2. Good opening article.

    Can Happy Jack suggest a good way to help understand “Queer Theology” is to look to more widely at “critical theory” developed initially by Gramsci, then later by Marcus and the Frankfurt School and its legion of offspring. The ideas developed by these neo-Marxists have now become so embedded in Western culture that we tend to overlook their roots and their desired outcomes.

    Is critical theory’s worldview compatible with Christianity? This is an important question. While it may be possible to find Christians who endorse critical theory, it is nearly impossible to find critical theorists who endorse Christianity. This is because Christianity is an overarching system of thought that seeks to define reality and posits objective moral values.
    According to critical theory, Christianity fosters unsafe ideologies and institutions that perpetuate anti-scientific thought, intolerance for certain sexual behaviors, parochialism, patriarchy, and a punishing authoritarianism for any who do not conform.

    Pre-Enlightenment Christianity is seen as stuck in the dark ages of intellectual barbarism, and the post-Enlightenment church is viewed as perpetuating colonialism, racism, sexism, chauvinism, and homophobia. Critical theory is critical of virtually all worldviews, including Christianity. Its goal is human autonomy from any objective authority whatsoever.10 …

    In addition to the concept of race, critical theory also finds the concepts of gender and sex to be modern inventions, as has been noted previously.16 Christian definitions of gender and sexuality are perceived as manmade social constructions intended to repress human freedom.17 “Queer Theory presumes that oppression follows from categorization, which arises every time language constructs a sense of what is ‘normal’ by producing and maintaining rigid categories of sex (male and female), gender (masculine and feminine), and sexuality (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and so on) and ‘scripting’ people into them.”18 The contrast between the teachings of queer theory and the Bible on gender and what it means to be made male and female in the image of God is stark …

    Perhaps one of the greatest points of tension discernible between critical theory and Christianity is seen in its disposition toward the family. One critical theorist, Marcuse, believed that one of the greatest negative achievements of civilization is the nuclear family. Civilization, for him, is built upon the principle of domination. Definitions of sexuality and morality that surround the family all flow from the Judeo-Christian concept of the nuclear family. Marcuse suggested that the family should be replaced by socialized, (i.e., secular) alternative institutions. The family, in his view, should be controlled by public powers.19

    Know your enemy!

    Critical theory and Christianity answer our most fundamental questions about reality in very different ways.

    Christianity tells one comprehensive, overarching narrative about reality in four basic acts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Who are we? We are the creatures of a holy, good, and loving Creator God. What is our fundamental problem as human beings? We have rebelled against God. What is the solution to our problem? God sent Jesus to bear the penalty of our rebellion and rescue us. [*Note: HJ does not subscribe to Penal Substitutionary Atonement… but we’ll let that one go for now} What is our primary moral duty? To love God. What is our purpose in life? To glorify God. This is the basic story that Christianity tells us and is the grid through which we ought to interpret everything else.

    Critical theory also functions as a worldview. But it tells a different comprehensive, overarching story about reality. The story of critical theory begins not with creation, but with oppression. The omission of a creation element is very important because it changes our answer to the question: “who are we?” There is no transcendent Creator who has a purpose and a design for our lives and our identities. We don’t primarily exist in relation to God, but in relation to other people and to other groups. Our identity is not defined primarily in terms of who we are as God’s creatures. Instead, we define ourselves in terms of race, class, sexuality, and gender identity. Oppression, not sin, is our fundamental problem. What is the solution? Activism. Changing structures. Raising awareness. We work to overthrow and dismantle hegemonic power. That is our primary moral duty. What is our purpose in life? To work for the liberation of all oppressed groups so that we can achieve a state of equity.

  3. I’d actually argue it’s a real problem if your understanding of scripture is at odds with scientific knowledge because it means that at least one of them is wrong or that your theology doesn’t care about reality, which is the sort of thinking that often justifies cruelty

    • These statements genuinely confuse me. What I do not understand is where the idea that scientific knowledge updates theology comes from? Theology and science are not talking about the same thing. Science is how, not why. I myself have shown a relationship between moral reasoning and brain damage – so what aspect of my theology is updated because there are physical grounds for human experience? If there was found to be a monogenetic cause for, say, homosexuality, then so what? (I know this is not what you are arguing but just a thought experiment.) What does it mean for the opposite, specifically a genetic cause for heterosexuality? How do we update theology then? What about a God ‘gene’ or module within the brain (which I would need a lot of convincing for…)? What does that change theologically? Christ still came, lived, died, rose again, and will return. As a scientist and clinician, I have never seen or experienced anything that causes conflict between science and theology; where or how do you perceive the rupture between scientific reality and theology to occur?

      There will almost always be some genetic and environmental cause for any facet of human behaviour, but then that was ever thus. (I remember the genetic studies into criminality coming out in the 2000s – what aspect of theology needs to be updated from those results?) The nature of human (moral) reality is no different now as when the Bible was written. We may have more knowledge about how the universe works and how complex behaviour arises, but that fails to tell us why that changes God or theology. I would genuinely be fascinated by an explanation to this as it feels that I am missing something altogether. Maybe I am! But it seems that this is more an argument, perhaps, from Pelagius rather than from science.

      • Well said Tom M. You are missing nothing! Over many years I have witnessed many futile but well – meaning attempts either, on the one hand, to show the ‘superiority’of the creation account ; thereby exposing the ‘fallacy’ of evolutionary theorising or, on the other hand,to reveal their compatibility as if they are radically different approaches to the same issue.
        Yet in critique 4 in the section *Genesis and Evolution*, we read the following: “I am more concerned with arguing that there is a compatibility between a historical Fall from original goodness and contemporary science , if revelation is not ruled out here.”
        Two points: (1) Science and theology (as you have argued Tom) are based upon different epistemological standpoints. But (2) while there is (as you have also indicated) areas of overlap in terms of knowledge between the two disciplines (I firmly believe that the latter cannot ignore the findings of the former), nevertheless *theological* understanding and reflection must be on guard against the danger of scientific thought being manipulated to promote ideas and practices that are contrary to the tenets of the Christian Gospel.
        Finally , crucial as they are, chapters 1 – 3 of Genesis are also an integral part of the Torah (the Law of Moses ) ; not to mention the wider Scriptural scenario – both Old and New Testaments.

      • Well *some* conservatives are still claiming that scripture says every person is heterosexual and that homosexuals are either liars or mentally ill.

        From my point of view, that theology is inconsistent with current scientific knowledge and so is irrelevant, wrong or an indicator that the scientific consensus is wrong.

        I think if your theology accepts that some people are naturally gay then it becomes very difficult to make scripture oppose same sex relationships and impossible to oppose inclusion of gay people in the church.

        • ‘Well *some* conservatives are still claiming that scripture says every person is heterosexual and that homosexuals are either liars or mentally ill.’

          Who? Who? Who? You keep making these wild straw-man crazy claims—with no evidence! This is not discussion—it is paranoid fantasy. Give some examples!

          • The signatories to the Nashville Statement, which includes some CofE folk, would be a good place to start.

            But you miss my point!

            My point was actually an example of how scientific knowledge and theology can be in conflict.

          • Peter: Science and scripture are in active accord about most things but they clash over miracles. In regard to “creation vs evolution”, I find that the discussion is advanced by identifying *specific questions* concerning which their answers might differ. This gets us past empty philosophising.

          • Anton

            OK so in my example the question would be

            “Is homosexuality natural or unnatural?”

            But then we would find disagreements over the meanings of “homosexuality” and “natural”!

          • ‘Natural’ is not a good word because many evangelicals believe nature is fallen. We need to use words whose meaning is uncontested by both sides of a disagreement. I’d ask the question “Is sexual desire between persons of the same sex part of God’s original design plan?” I think we’d disagree about the answer, but that’s not my point just here.

          • This is straying a bit off my original point, but in case you are interested in the opinions of conservative Christians who disagree with you, Ive found a bunch of links to articles where conservative Christians are saying homosexuality is a choice or demon possession or a temptation, i.e. rejecting the idea that homosexuality is natural.

            An interview with Jerry Falwell who has been hugely influential on conservative Christian involvement in social and political issues, both in the US and the UK. In this interview he very clearly states he believes homosexuality to be a choice. His opinion is hugely important because ordinary LGBT people come into contact with people, politicians and policies influenced by him far more than any theologian.

            Similarly Richard Land, a high up in the SBC, which is one of the largest denominations in the US “homosexuality is a choice” and goes on to suggest that people are gay because they were molested as children(!)

            American survey of protestant ministers –
            “In fact, 82% of all ministers agreed with the statement “homosexuality is a choice people make,” while 18% disagreed with it. Homosexuality was viewed as a choice by 94% of political conservatives, 79% of moderates, and 28% of liberals. Eighty-eight percent of evangelical ministers saw it as a choice, compared to 54% of mainline ministers.”

            30 British Christian schools using materials that state homosexuality is a choice


            Christian Concern rejecting the position that homosexuality is natural


            The Christian Institute treats homosexuality as a temptation, not a natural orientation


            This is a fairly long article, but in the middle of it there is acknowledgement that some charismatic churches still treat homosexuality as demon possession and, indeed, an aquaintance of mine, underwent an exorcism of his homosexuality in a CofE affiliated church less than a decade ago. This article *again* treats homosexuality as a “temptation” not a natural state.

            Apologies for so many American links, but Americans seem happier to actually put down on paper what they believe about gay people rather than reserving it for private chats over coffee(!)

          • I have no idea, Peter, what is meant by the phrase “homosexuality is a choice”, but having sexual relations is a choice on every occasion, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and my Bible tells me that sexual relations other than between a man and woman who are married to each other in God’s eyes will anger God.

            You cited Richard Land whom you summarised as saying that “people are gay because they were molested as children”. If that statement were put to me on a formal Yes/No basis then I’d answer No, but 22% of lesbians and 46% of male homosexuals reported childhood molestation by someone of the same sex in one study, whereas for heterosexual men and women the figures were 1% and 7% (M.E. Tomeo et al., Comparative data of childhood and adolescence molestation in heterosexual and homosexual persons, in: Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 30, p. 535-541; 2001).

          • Anton

            The question I was answering was how scientific knowledge could challenge bad theology.

            I think its harder to see how scientific knowledge or really any knowledge, bar perhaps personal revelation, could answer your question

          • Anton

            Re molestation

            Correlation is not causation. In this case there’s a stronger case for LGBT children being easier targets since the perpetrator can blackmail them with outing them.

            However if people are gay because we were molested as children (I wasnt. I know a lot of gay men and don’t knowingly know any who were) isn’t that a case for Christians being a bit nicer to us, given we are victims of crimes?

          • Ian

            FIEC, Christian Concern and the Christian Institute are not American.

            I wasn’t claiming the view that homosexuality is a choice was widespread amongst British evangelicals. I was using it as an example of how bad theology can be challenged with scientific knowledge.

            Indeed I’d actually argue that the belief that homosexuality is chosen has decreased as gay people have become more acceptable in society. If you know someone from a minority you are more likely to have an accurate view of that minority than if you’ve only ever heard about them, never met them for yourself.

          • Peter,

            I never claimed causation rather than correlation in this situation, because it’s far from 100%.

            The phrase LGBT children you use is absurd in context. Peoople only start to manifest their sexual preferences seriously as adolescents.

          • Anton

            By children I meant under 18s.

            I knew I was gay around age 13. That, or younger, is pretty common for gay men. Trans people it’s usually younger. IDK about other LGBT people.

          • It is obvious that the age 13 is a standard time for thinking such things.
            That is because the age 13 is as mixed up an age as one can get. It is an ‘under construction’ age. A ‘melting pot’ age. An ‘unstable’ age. One cannot take at face value the perceptions of adolescence or other hormonal states, because they are skewed chemically.
            By saying that 13 is standard, you prove the orthodox’s point. It is only when we are ‘not ourselves’ that we can have self-perceptions so distant from the reality.
            But of course if we feed those self-perceptions and starve the reality, then the self-perceptions grow into reality.
            This is obvious enough from the logical and biological angles. However, it is also confirmed by the studies of Savin-Williams and Ream, and of Lisa Diamond. Once we and our bodies settle down, the instablity of 13 and suchlike ages dies down, unless it has been encouraged and nurtured.
            You are asking us to give authority to the self perceptions of the very last age (circa 13) whose self perceptions anyone would accord any authority.

      • …or I guess maybe you could say that God deliberately creates people who are outside the possibility of salvation from birth, but then that creates far bigger scriptural problems!

        And if gay people have been created just to be damned anyway then surely they may as well have a nice life now?

        • ‘…or I guess maybe you could say that God deliberately creates people who are outside the possibility of salvation from birth’

          Who? Who? Who??? Who is saying these things?? No-one I have ever, ever heard of ever!!

          • I think you are not understanding my points here. I didn’t claim anyone believed this last position. I was trying merely to point out how scientific knowledge can challenge bad theology

        • PJ
          I’m not sure you have shown a grasp of any basic, substantial, theology in your comments here, certainly not in response to JP’s articles in their totality.
          Neither have you given any criteria on which to assess good and bad theology.
          Even less on
          1.what is the Good News of Christianity
          2 the Holiness of God
          3 the resulting holy lives in those who have tasted salvation: that is, the salvation and sanctification of Christians lives changed, transformed.
          There maybe a hint of your fundamental and overarching theology in a severe case of theological chronic myopathy when fruit and human flourishing is mentioned. But that is littlle more than question begging.
          But at the same time this start and end point theology is looking through the wrong end of the telescope, human centric, not God centric. He is the Alpha and Omega, begining and end point.

          • PJ,
            My comment was relevant, that is logically probative of a key fact at issue; theology – good and bad and its source. As such, it would include an assessment of your your own theology as expressed in your comments on the theological substance of the totallity of JP’s articles.

          • PJ,
            Does science address questions of God’s Holines and human holiness of Christ:s followers, questiins of salvation and sanctification.
            Science doesn’t and neither do nor have you, ever, in comments on Ian’s blog. Though I do stand to be corrected. And that correction, by addressing the question of Holiness, is your free will choice? Unless it is controlled and constrained, overridden, by your sexuality.

  4. Hi Geoff, Thanks for the link. l am not sure if that was what Calvin actually taught or whether it is what some Calvinists thought he taught. However, l have heard it preached in that form in various places.


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